Forensic scientists collect, preserve and analyze evidence from crime scenes to help law enforcement and the legal system solve crimes and identify perpetrators.
Although forensics covers a wide field, including everything from accounting to epistemology, the role of the forensic scientist is essentially a laboratory function that concentrates on criminalistics, or the analysis of physical evidence. This function of forensics is the one most often referred to in the media.
Most law enforcement agencies that employ forensics personnel prefer applicants with a college degree. Depending on the size, location and requirements of the hiring agency, this could mean a two-year degree (AA), a four-year degree (BA or BS) or a post-graduate degree in criminal justice or related field.
Other degrees that could prove useful in obtaining employment as a forensic scientist technician include those with an emphasis in lab sciences, such as chemistry, biology or forensic science.
Forensic science combines knowledge and techniques from a number of different disciplines, including science, law and even logic. One specialized application of forensics is Crime Scene Investigation (CSI), which involves field forensics or onsite investigation of the physical scene of a crime. Otherwise, most forensic analysis takes place in a controlled laboratory setting.
Standard lab tests performed by forensic scientists include the following:
Another function of the forensic scientist is to attempt a reconstruction of the commission of the crime. This task applies logical deduction based on the physical evidence and the results of analyzing this evidence.
The forensic scientist plays a supporting role in crime investigation, backing up the investigator assigned to a case. A forensic scientist needs to possess some specific character traits to be successful, including: a methodical approach, attention to detail, logic and excellent communication skills.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, nearly 10,000 people were employed as forensic science technicians, and job opportunities are expected to increase “much faster than average” during the upcoming decade
Salaries for forensic scientists can range widely depending on the level of work; technicians earn an average of about $21.79 per hour, but depending on the field of forensics, annual salaries can range from $40,534 to $63,396.